Here’s a breakdown of the first cuts proposed for Salem-Keizer School District

The Salem-Keizer School District would have fewer people assisting school librarians, translating school district information and administering medication to students under a series of budget cuts intended to save $31 million.

After announcing the cuts piecemeal over the past two weeks, Superintendent Andrea Castañeda on Tuesday gave the school board a breakdown of what positions she’s proposing eliminating and how much she expects to save with other spending reductions.

Some of her changes cut money the district is currently spending, while others reduce planned future spending.

The district is facing a significant expected gap in its general fund, which pays for the majority of day-to-day operations. Federal Covid relief money runs out after this school year, and some of the gap is because the cost of wages and supplies have outpaced state money for schools.

Castañeda said a second round of cuts totaling tens of millions of dollars will be needed in the spring, with the money to come directly from schools.

Union leaders and educators protested the cuts at the meeting, particularly the planned reduction in school nurses. Multiple teachers who spoke said they wanted to see cuts to the salaries of top administrators before the district contemplated laying off employees directly serving students.

Any cuts for the coming school year would be part of the 2024-25 budget, which must be approved by the school district’s budget committee and the school board.

Here’s a breakdown of what cuts and spending reductions Castañeda has proposed.

Position cuts – $5 million

Castañeda’s proposal calls for eliminating 46 full-time positions, including seven district administrators. Sixteen of the positions are currently vacant, including two administrators who work on curriculum development.

The cuts include a human resources director, special education coordinator, technology supervisor, planning and property services coordinator, and student equity, access and advancement coordinator.

Positions the district has proposed eliminating would be cut for the next budget year, which begins in July. Employees working in those positions would not necessarily be laid off because union contracts might give them rights to “bump” less experienced employees from other jobs.

Other cuts include:

  • Secretaries and administrative assistants for libraries (3), executive administration (2) and the Achievement Via Individual Determination program, usually called AVID.
  • Clerical workers in the student services department, which oversees special education services
  • Instructional mentors (2), who mentor teachers, and federal program associates (2), positions held by licensed teachers.
  • Two native language specialists and a translator. District spokesman Aaron Harada said because of bumping rights, the district wasn’t yet sure which languages those employees spoke or how it might affect translation and interpretation for students and families.

School nurses

Five full-time registered nurses would be cut under the plan, leaving the district with about 19 nurses to serve students at 65 schools.

Registered nurses are required to administer some medications.

That’s about one nurse for every 2,000 district students, district spokesman Aaron Harada said.

The district had 20 full-time and one half-time nurse positions prior to the Covid pandemic, Harada said, but the ratio of student per nurse was higher because district enrollment was higher.

Also cut would be nine licensed practical nurses, positions added during the pandemic to better support students with complex medical needs.

Three would remain, Harada said.

The nurse cuts drew the most pushback educators who spoke at the Dec. 12 school board meeting.

Carrie Litchfield, a teacher in the district’s teen parent program, said the cuts would make the district more vulnerable to lawsuits over failing to meet the medical needs of students, saying the nursing team was already “skeletal” relative to the number of students it’s expected to serve.

“Our 23 nurses spend our days scrambling to provide the medical care our students require to be physically able to attend and engage in school,” she said.

Denise Proudfoot, a school nurse, called the reduction “disproportionate” and said it seemed district leaders don’t understand what nurses do.

“To be included in district-level reductions that are touted as non-student facing is mind-boggling to us,” she said.

She suggested the district can bill insurance as one way of funding positions outside the district’s general fund.

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda’s salary was referenced on several signs as educators rallied outside a Salem-Keizer School Board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, protesting district budget cuts.(Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Administrator pay – $272,000

District administrators, including Castañeda, would forgo cost-of-living increases next year, a move that would save about $272,000.

That comes after administrators received one-time pay increases in 2022 averaging 7.85% in 2022 on top of cost-of-living adjustments. Union leaders said the lack of raises for one year was  a small concession relative to what the district has recently spent on administrators.

“The horse has already left the barn,” said Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association.

Castañeda has also pledged to donate $30,000 from her $285,000 annual salary back to district programs and youth-serving organizations over this year and next.

Her salary has become a focal point in union rallies, with teachers criticizing the pay gap between senior administrators and educators. 

Castañeda’s salary is set by contract with the school board, and her pay is slightly less than what other superintendents of large Oregon districts have earned in recent years.

Portland Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, who oversees the only district in the state larger than Salem-Keizer, earns $341,000 per year, with the possibility of performance bonuses up to $75,000.

Former Salem-Keizer Superintendent Christy Perry had a salary of $311,044 when she retired last year.

Dozens of educators rallied outside a Salem-Keizer School Board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2023, protesting district budget cuts as contract negotiations continue. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Pension debt – $16 million

Roughly half of the $31 million Castañeda expects to save this year and next comes from reducing the amount the district pays into a fund to cover its pension debts.

The change won’t affect retirement contributions for current employees. The fund is used to pay money owed to the Public Employee Retirement System to cover pensions for already retired district workers.

The district has been conservative with its pension debt in previous years and can afford to put less toward that account without affecting its ability to make payments, district officials said. That could change when the state next recalculates rates public employers must pay into PERS in 2025.

Reduced supply spending, travel – $9 million

The district will cut $2 million from its supply and technology budget for this year and $3.7 million next year, Castañeda said.

Another $1 million will be saved by suspending replacement of district vehicles. She plans to cut $1 million this year and $1 million next year from budgets for replacement of school items like furniture and playground equipment.

Finally, the district will cut $350,000 from its travel budget for AVID and dual language programs, mostly by sending fewer employees and seeking conferences closer to Salem.

Delaying new career-technical education programs – $400,000

About $400,000 would be saved next year by delaying the rollout of new career technical education programs. 

Castañeda said the savings would result from forgoing startup costs, like new materials, not any savings on staffing.

Harada said he didn’t have details on which programs would be delayed or the schools that would be impacted.

Charging facility rental rates – $500,000

Nonprofits and outside organizations would be charged more to use school district facilities, allowing the district to recoup its costs.

The district currently allows school programs to rent facilities for free. Rental rates for outside groups vary, with youth-serving nonprofit organizations charged $20 per hour to rent a high school gym. Costs for for profit organizations or fundraisers go up to $90 an hour for a gym or $120 for a high school auditorium.

Harada said those fees don’t cover the actual cost to the district of utilities, custodians to clean up after events or supplies like toilet paper. He said school facilities would likely continue to be available to school groups for free.

A group is working on a revised schedule that will better account for the district’s actual costs, he said.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.